Root & Branch # 8

Root and Branch Issue #8 Cover

Issue number 8 of the libertarian socialist journal.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on January 11, 2014

Chinese roads to state capitalism: Stalinism and Bukharinism in China's industrial revolution - Bill Russell

From Root & Branch number 8 (1979)

Submitted by ZJW on December 25, 2016

Ten years ago, Western Maoists returned from Peking bursting with stories of daily life in revolutionary China. Inside the People's Republic, a second Chinese revolution was going on: ordinary peasants and workers were participating fully in making all of the decisions that affected their lives; women were rapidly advancing towards equality with men; leaders were no longer permitted to raise themselves above the masses and become a new ruling elite. In short, China was the first socialist country to solve the problem of post-revolutionary bureaucratization; such was the message delivered to us by dozens of travelers who had seen a future that worked. (1)

That was a decade ago; today, the journey to the East is being made by another band of pilgrims inspired by an entirely different vision. Now it is the top executives of Western corporations -- everyone from Pierre Cardin to David Rockefeller -- who are crowding the hotels of Beijing; and, what they are searching for is not a new social order but the fabled China Market. (That capitalists have pursued this mirage for a century or more is, by the way, one of the eternal mysteries of the inscrutable Occidental mind.)

China's new hospitality towards the potentates of the multinationals is only one of the unpleasant surprises which the current leadership has sprung on its foreign admirers. The first shock was the purge and arrest of Mao's closest associates, including his widow, Jiang Qing, barely a month after his death. More recently, we have seen Deng Xiaoping attempt to teach the Vietnamese bureaucracy a lesson it failed to learn from Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. In between these two incidents, a series of other disillusioning events took place, such as China's scolding Jimmy Carter for letting the Shah topple from the Peacock Throne. The meaning of these events is gradually becoming a topic of debate within the American Left. Has the new regime betrayed the Maoist ideals of the Cultural Revolution and reverted to a "bourgeois" political line? Or has there been no essential departure from the policies laid down by Mao ten years ago, but merely a rectification of certain "excesses"? (2)

I do not propose here to choose a side in this polemic; far from it, what I want to show in these pages is that the argument is irrelevant because both sides proceed on the basis of false premises about the nature of Maoism. The common understanding on the Left of the political conflicts within the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] is mistaken: the "left-wing way out of Stalinism," which many see in Maoism, is a political mirage. There is as little reason -- or less -- to regret the defeat of the Maoist "Gang of Four" as there is to celebrate the victory of the "number-two person in power following the capitalist road" (as Deng was known during the Cultural Revolution). To demonstrate the validity of these judgments will require a close examination of Mao's socioeconomic policies and of the struggle within the Party bureaucracy.

Mao vs. Stalin?

Over the last decade a new consensus on the nature of Maoism and its relation to Stalinism has emerged among Western China-watchers. During the early 1950s, the story goes, the CCP uncritically imitated the Soviet political and economic system, with the result that Chinese society became increasingly hierarchical and authoritarian. Once Mao realized where the Soviet path was leading China, he rebelled and set out to find a new "Chinese road to socialism," more consistent with radical principles of egalitarianism and mass participation in decision-making. Mao devoted the last twenty years of his life to the struggle -- against stubborn opposition from a conservative Party bureaucracy intent on retaining its power and privileges -- to subordinate China's economic development to socialist values of equality and democracy.

Stalinist economic theory had insisted that nationalization plus economic growth would automatically lead to a classless society; no need to be concerned, then, if in the meantime gross inequalities persisted; if all decisions were made by a handful of bureaucrats, with no mass participation; if the countryside were drained of resources to support urban industrialization. But all of these phenomena were unacceptable to Mao, and he reacted strongly against their appearance in China during its First Five-Year Plan [FYP]. The transition to communism, he insisted, must begin without delay; it must not be put off till the indefinite future on the grounds that the material preconditions were lacking. To meet this goal he devised a new approach to the problems of economic growth. The peasants would not be left to stagnate while cities flourished at their expense; rural industry would be developed along with its urban counterpart, and at an even faster rate, so that the gap between town and country would narrow and eventually disappear. The incomes of the bureaucrats would not be permitted to grow, and they would be encouraged to restrict their consumption and required to participate in physical labor alongside the workers and peasants, so as not to become separated from the masses. The masses would be drawn into the decision-making processes in factories and villages. The health and education systems would be redesigned to provide services for everyone, not just for the privileged few. The arts would focus on the lives of workers and peasants and their struggle to become better socialists, rather than glamorizing the ruling classes, old or new. Step by step, the class distinctions which still survived under socialism would be reduced and ultimately abolished: so Maoist economics is usually presented. (3)

Thus Maoism represents a total break with the economic and political doctrines of Stalinism: this view has become part of the conventional wisdom of current China scholarship, and is shared by writers of almost every political position. To be sure, there are differences of interpretation or emphasis; radical scholars, for example, describe Mao as the leader of a coalition of workers and poor peasants in a "class struggle" against the would-be new ruling-class and its allies, while liberal academics portray him as a visionary, a man in revolt against the canons of Weberian bureaucratic rationality, striving futilely to keep the spirit of revolution alive. Although liberals and radicals disagree on the feasibility of Mao's goal, and whether it was shared by the majority or imposed from above, there is no disagreement over the nature of his goal: to immediately begin the transition to communist social relations.

It is this consensus which I would like to call into question. China's political struggle of the last twenty-five years should not be seen as a confrontation between a Stalinist orthodoxy which dictates economic development at any cost and a Maoist alternative which places human values above economic. Rather, the split within the Chinese ruling class has centered on a more mundane topic, the optimal rate of economic growth, and has juxtaposed two conflicting development strategies -- one, advocated by Mao Zedong, being fast but risky; the other, proposed by "Capitalist-roaders" like Deng Xiaoping, slower but more dependable. No one would deny that "moderates" like Deng have been primarily concerned with economic growth; I will try to show that the same is true of the Maoist faction, despite its facade of populist and egalitarian rhetoric. Furthermore, I will argue, it was not Mao who renounced Stalin's economic priorities, but his opponents; Mao wanted to retain the essential features of the Stalinist development program, making only such changes as were needed to adapt the Soviet model to Chinese economic realities. In order to demonstrate this, it will be necessary to return to the origins of the "struggle between the two lines" in the 1950s, for. it was then that the economic battle lines between "left" and "right" were drawn. The bulk of this article will recount, in some detail, the emergence of the conflict during the 1950s; I will then attempt, more briefly, to show that the same issues continued to be the focus of debate in the 1960s and 1970s. But first we must clarify the meaning of the key term, "Stalinist development strategy," so as to avoid certain confusions which have become endemic to recent China scholarship.

The Stalinist Development Strategy?

Throughout these pages, I will be using such terms as "Stalinist model" and "Stalinist development strategy" in a very specific and restricted sense, referring to the set of interrelated policies applied during the USSR's First Five-Year Plan. The later Five-Year Plans have, of course, much in common with the first, but it was the economic program of 1929-32 which embodied the principles of Stalinist economics in their purest form. The following decades saw a gradual drift away from the pure Stalinist model, in a direction which might be called (the term will be explained presently) Bukharinist. It is customary, at least in writing about China, to include the entire history of Soviet economic policy under the rubric of "the Soviet model," a term used interchangeably with "Stalinist model." Although this broader definition is perfectly appropriate for most purposes, the failure to differentiate between variations of Soviet economics has contributed (as will become clear in due course) to the general confusion about the relationship between Maoism and Stalinism.

Stalin's First Five-Year Plan was, in a phrase, a crash industrialization program. (4) All efforts were concentrated on a single goal: the highest possible rate of growth of heavy industry. The State took control of the entire urban economy, and scarce resources were channeled into the priority sectors, at the expense of consumer goods industries; centralized planning was introduced and expanded precisely to ensure the "correct'' distribution of resources, as market forces would otherwise dictate investment in the higher-profit consumer sector. Attempts were periodically made to raise labor productivity by speed-ups and forced overtime, with disastrous consequences for workers' health and safety. While production quotas were raised through "socialist emulation," living standards were on the decline as consumer industries were starved of investment. Police informers in the factories recorded the workers' response to this intensified exploitation: "Socialist competition is a new yoke on the neck of the workers. They want to drive the half-dead worker to the grave before his time." (5)

Agriculture made a major contribution to the growth of heavy industry; the countryside provided a pool of cheap labor, which could be transferred to the cities as needed, and the peasants' labor provided food and raw materials for the consumer industries, which provisioned the growing urban workforce, as well as agricultural exports, which were exchanged for Western capital goods. To give the peasants something in return, more consumer goods or agricultural tools, would have drawn resources away from heavy industry; thus, the agricultural surplus product was extracted without offering anything in exchange. Forced "collectivization," (6) which amounted to a war waged by the ruling class against the peasantry, gave the State control over the peasants' land and labor-power, making it possible to extract the agricultural surplus relatively efficiently. One effect of this policy -- which, as we will see, made the Stalinist model unworkable in China -- was a long-term stagnation of agricultural output, for the peasants had little incentive to produce more.

These are the main features of the Stalinist strategy. In the late 1920s the "Bolshevik Right," led by Nikolai Bukharin, charted a different path to industrialization. (7) Their main disagreement with the "Left" was over agricultural policy. Remembering the 1920-21 rural uprisings that had been provoked by wartime grain requisitioning, Bukharin feared that a renewed assault on the peasants would drive them to rebel again. Instead, they should be persuaded to hand over their crop surpluses by offering them farm tools and consumer goods in exchange. Industry should therefore be oriented towards serving the needs of agriculture. Heavy industry's growth would necessarily be slower in the short run, but it would eventually benefit from the larger surpluses created by agricultural investment. In this strategy, the flow of resources from country to city would be maintained (by taxation and by manipulation of the ratio between the prices of industrial and agricultural goods), but at a slower pace, so as not to antagonize the peasants. Compulsory collectivization was ruled out. Since investment would not be forced into heavy industry, there would be no need to immediately substitute planning for the market; instead of subsidizing heavy industry, all State industry would be required to operate at a profit.

These are the poles between which state-capitalist economic policy oscillates: when the bureaucracy becomes disillusioned with the extreme form of the Stalinist model, it has nowhere to go but to the "Right," that is, towards the Bukharinist model. Nikolai Bukharin is thus the patron saint of all state-capitalist "economic reformers," even if they do not always remember to light a candle at his altar. Examples of pure Stalinist economics are rare: the USSR during the First FYP; most of Eastern Europe in the early Cold War years; China in 1953-54 and again during the Great Leap Forward. Yugoslavia has moved the farthest in the other direction, but it is not entirely alone; to one degree or another, concessions to the Bukharinist strategy (or, as it is more often known, "market socialism") are the general rule. In the People's Republic, Bukharinist tendencies were kept in check by Mao, but have flourished since his death.

"Learn from the Soviet Union"

By maximizing the rate of exploitation and concentrating all resources on a single goal, Stalin's crash industrialization program did succeed in achieving that goal: heavy industry advanced rapidly. Steel production, for example, increased by 48 percent during the first plan; oil, by 83 percent. It was this success story which the Chinese were to try to emulate in their own First Five-Year Plan, begun in 1953. However, China adopted the Stalinist development model at a time when it was already beginning to come into question throughout the state-capitalist bloc, including the Soviet Union itself. Stalin's death in March 1953 made it possible to criticize his economics; by September, Khrushchev had described in the pages of Pravda the failure of Soviet agriculture under Stalin: grain output, he revealed, had increased by only 10 percent since 1940, and there were fewer livestock than there had been forty years before. Malenkov proposed an economic "New Course," which would increase investment in light industry and agriculture. Throughout Eastern Europe, the Stalinist pattern of crash industrialization, which had been applied from 1949 to 1953, was being reconsidered. (8) The CCP leaders were not insulated from Soviet and Eastern European influences; their readiness to back down from the classic Stalinist model when it foundered in China was no doubt encouraged by the "rightward" trend within the bloc.

It was on the "industrial front" that the People's Republic most closely followed the Stalinist line. State investment was, if anything, even more heavily concentrated in industry, with other sectors, such as agriculture and housing, receiving an even smaller share of the pie. (9) The Soviet practice of setting targets too high to be met was also followed: the yearly plan for 1953 called for a 25.6 percent rise in industrial output, to be achieved mostly through a 16 percent increase in labor productivity; but, despite a nationwide speed-up drive, these targets could not be met. (10) Speed-ups occurred in the first half of the year in both 1953 and 1954; their impact on the workers was occasionally disclosed by the Party press. The People's Daily acknowledged that industrial accidents were up in the first half of 1953. The following year, a report from Shanghai said that, "In transport departments, many accidents have been caused as a result of overburdening the workers. The carrying of excessively heavy loads has caused the workers to vomit blood, to complain of aching bones, to suffer injuries from falls, and to hurt their spines." Early in 1955, when the Stalinist model was under attack, the head of the "Trade Unions" declared, "There has been no limit to the prolongation of working hours; individual workers have worked continuously for 72 hours through additional shifts and working hours .... There are quite a few cases in which, owing to exhaustion, workers have fainted, vomitted blood, or even died." (11)

Along with the speed-ups went an intensification of repression directed against the workers. The official press mounted a campaign to tighten labor discipline in the spring of 1953. Workers were denounced for such crimes as skipping work to go to the movies, or to work for private capitalists who paid higher wages than the State. "In the Shanghai Electric Bulb Factory," one typical attack ran, "where the working hours terminate at 5 PM, many workers go to the toilet room at around 4:50 PM to wash their hands and get ready to leave. ... The workers eat candies and watermelon seeds, talk and laugh just as if they are attending a tea party." (12) The next year, the campaign was resumed: a labor discpline code, copied directly from Stalin, was introduced, and special tribunals were set up in the industrial districts and along the railroad lines to try "saboteurs." (13) The consequences of these discipline campaigns were described -- again, in 1955 -- in an editorial in the Beijing Workers' Daily: (14)

Inadequate business management, low productivity, and failure to complete the production plans are all blamed on the workers and ascribed to their breach of labor discipline. ... The management of some enterprises often shift the responsibility for injury and accidents to the workers .... For instance, the grinder on the 'chlorine trough' in Workshop 52 of the Shenyang Chemical Works has no safety equipment. The workers had pointed this out but the workshop took no action, with the result that an accident occurred where a worker had his fingers cut. Analyzing the causes for the accident, the man in charge of the workshop put it 'carelessness on the part of workers.' ... The worker who had lost his fingers was fined one month's bonus and made to criticize himself before the public .... In other instances, when a serious loss has resulted to an enterprise due to an accident, the worker responsible is sent to the people's court to be punished as a criminal.

The author of this editorial was attacked during Mao's Great Leap Forward as a "bourgeois rightist"; this and other examples of muckraking were among the "crimes" against the proletariat for which he was condemned. In agriculture, the Stalinist path was followed much more hesitantly and cautiously. (15) As originally envisioned, collectivization was to take place in three stages, spread out over a period of about fifteen years. The process would begin with the formation of mutual aid teams -- each composed of five to twenty households -- which would systematize and extend the traditional pooling of labor, tools, and animals without making any changes in property relations. In the second stage, several teams would be united in a cooperative, in which work would be organized collectively but the peasants would retain title to their land, and would be paid partly according to the amount and quality of the land they contributed. Finally, the cooperatives were to be amalgamated into collectives -- each the size of a large village, or about a hundred families --in which land, large tools, and draft animals would be owned "in common" and payment would depend solely on labor.

By the middle of 1952, some 40 percent of peasant households, most of them in the "early liberated areas" of North and Northeast China, had joined mutual aid teams; only a handful (0.1 percent) were in cooperatives. The first serious attempt to organize cooperatives occurred in the spring of 1953 (roughly coinciding with that year's industrial speed-up), and was preceded by a purge of around 10 percent of the rural cadres. This mini-collectivization drive reached its peak in March, and was then reversed; 29 percent of the cooperatives were disbanded, and the cadres were criticized for the "brutal measures" they had used in forcing the peasants to sign up. While the number of cooperatives doubled, it still remained insignificant. Although this first experiment was not very successful, the imperatives of rapid industrialization demanded that the bureaucracy gain more control over agriculture, all the more so when a new trade agreement with the USSR, requiring more agricultural exports, was signed in the fall.

Since the peasants had proven unwilling to hand over their produce to the State at below-market prices, a new law was enacted in November 1953: henceforth, all "excess'' grain would be bought at prices set by the State. "If socialism does not occupy the rural front line then capitalism will," Mao declared, and there was a new push to organize the peasants. By mid-1954, some 60 percent were organized, but still mostly in mutual-aid teams; only 2 percent belonged to cooperatives. From fall 1954 to spring 1955, the campaign was resumed, and the proportion of rural households in cooperatives increased to 14 percent. The number of collectives was miniscule. There was a long way to go to full collectivization, or so it seemed.

The Stalinist model in crisis

Difficulties with the First Five-Year Plan arose immediately. The industrial speed-ups necessary to meet over-ambitious targets led not only to more accidents, but also to more breakdowns of expensive machinery and a general deterioriation of product quality, to the point that much of the increased output was unusable. Concentrating investment in capital-intensive heavy industry provided few new jobs, and thus offered little hope to the millions of urban unemployed. Shortages of food and consumer goods and wretched housing conditions added to the demoralization of the urban workforce. Even more serious were the rural problems. Many peasants were unhappy about being forced into cooperatives; they responded by killing off draft animals and pigs, breaking tools, and refusing to obey work orders. (16) Peasant resistance was not as widespread as in Stalin's collectivization drives, (17) but it was serious enough to make the Party think twice about pushing the peasants too hard. With the introduction of compulsory grain purchases, the surplus product extracted from the countryside was at once increased sharply -- and this despite poor harvests in 1953-54 -- leaving some peasants with barely enough to eat. The high procurement quotas set off a panic in the countryside in 1954-55; peasants concealed grain from the authorities, besieged them with complaints and demands for a return of the surpluses already handed in, and fled to the cities in droves; rural Party cadres often participated in these activities or looked the other way. (18)

Similar difficulties at the start of the USSR's First Plan had not forced Stalin into any major reconsideration of his development program; in fact, he had insisted on stepping up the pace of industrialization and completing the Five-Year Plan in four years. But the CCP faced still another problem, one which could not be ignored: the increase in output expected to result from more rational and efficient organization of agricultural labor did not materialize. While industry was forging ahead, agriculture fell short of the plan targets, and in fact barely kept pace with population growth. Since the countryside provided 90 percent of the raw materials for light industry and 75 percent of the exports exchanged for foreign capital goods, the agricultural lag had an immediate effect on industry. (19) After the excellent harvest of 1952, industry's growth rate in the following year was 30 percent, but with the poor harvests of 1953 and 1954, industrial growth fell to16 percent in 1954 and 6 percent in 1955. (20) No such dependence of industrial growth on agricultural fluctuations occurred in the Soviet Union: on the contrary, while total agricultural production fell by 25 to 30 percent over the course of the First Five-Year Plan, State procurements more than doubled, allowing industry to expand steadily. (21)

Unlike the Soviet Union, the People's Republic was unable to consistently extract an agricultural surplus large enough to maintain rapid industrial growth. The reason lay in a fundamental difference between the China of the 1950s and the Russia of the 1920s, a difference which was to make the Stalinist model unworkable in China. In the Soviet Union, it was possible to offset a poor harvest by decreasing the peasants' consumption; State procurements did not have to be lowered. But China's peasants lived too close to subsistence level to permit any cut in living standards: China's per capita grain production in 1952 was not quite 60 percent of the USSR's in 1928. (22) Not only was China's potential agricultural surplus so small that a bad harvest could virtually wipe it out, but also any attempt to preserve the surplus at the expense of consumption would court disaster. To persist in squeezing grain out of the peasants after a crop failure would drive them to the wall, and they would retaliate by slaughtering draft animals and destroying tools, which in turn would further reduce production in the following years. This meant that a fundamental departure from Stalinist orthodoxy was essential. While the Soviet bureaucracy could afford to let total farm output stagnate, since it could in any case lay its hands on a sizable surplus, in China an increase in total output was necessary to guarantee a reliable surplus. A purely extractive, Stalinist approach was thus not feasible.

With the Five-Year Plan in trouble after only two years, the CCP had to begin to recognize that a quick push for heavy industry was impractical. In fact, opposition to the Plan's basic strategy had already been voiced in 1953, when unnamed critics were officially quoted as demanding more investment in light industry and agriculture and a rise in living standards. (23) By early 1955, it seems that most of the top bureaucrats had come to accept the (essentially Bukharinist) logic of the critics' position. In the vanguard in developing a new policy was a group of economic experts within the Party, Chen Yun being a notable example, but the turn to the "right" apparently enjoyed wide support at the highest level of the apparatus. As a result, there was a general retreat from the Stalinist line of 1953-54.

The collectivization drive which had started in the fall of 1954 was halted, about 3 percent of the cooperatives were allowed to dissolve, and the rural cadres were again criticized for their use of economic pressure (i.e., raising the taxes of those who refused to join co-ops) or physical coercion. In the future, it was stressed, collectivization would be purely voluntary, and a low rate of formation of co-ops was projected for 1955. The burden of State procurement quotas was lightened, and the peasants were promised that there would be no increase in quotas for three years. The terms of trade were to be somewhat less unfavorable to the countryside. In industry, the speed-ups were denounced as "guerilla methods," inapplicable to modern industry; trade union cadres were criticized for having shown a lack of concern for the welfare of the workers. Light industry was to receive a greater share of investment, providing more consumer goods for workers and peasants. The policy of social peace was even extended to the capitalists: fearing a capital strike provoked by rumors of imminent nationalization, the Party relaxed its control over business transactions, returned a few shops that had been nationalized in 1954-55 to their original owners, and reassured capitalists that they would continue to play a major role in the economy (24).

It is not clear how far China's Bukharinists had progressed in working out the particulars of a long-run solution to the main problem: the unreliability of the agricultural surplus. Investment in agriculture was part of their program, but what kind of investment? Tractors were clearly not the answer: they could not yet be produced in the required numbers, and the available models were not suited to most of China's agriculture. In the event the "Right" was not in a position to work out a full solution in practice until the early 1960s; but the general direction to be taken must already have been obvious in 1955: increased application of fertilizers, expansion of the amount of land under irrigation, etc. Whether the Party would have been willing in the mid-1950s to accept the large shift of investment funds required to make such a program work will never be known; but, in the long run they were to have little choice. Meanwhile, Mao thought he had a better idea.

Mao's neo-Stalinist alternative

The most obvious drawback of the slow-growth strategy, from the point of view of the bureaucracy, was that it implied a long period of dependence on Soviet economic aid: if the emphasis was to be shifted to light industry and agriculture, the building of an independent heavy-industrial base would have to be delayed and capital goods would have to be imported for years to come. The Russians would certainly try to parlay their economic leverage into political control. This prospect could not have been pleasing to Mao, who had once told Edgar Snow, "We are certainly not fighting for an emancipated China in order to turn the country over to Moscow!" (25) In addition, the Bukharinist strategy would postpone the day when China would join the front ranks of world powers, and this must have been equally displeasing to Mao, who repeatedly stated that, "We must ... build our country up into a powerful modern socialist state" and "We shall catch up with Britain in fifteen years." (26) Such nationalistic sentiments were, I would argue, the most important motive behind Mao's search for a developmental model that would salvage the prospect of rapid modernization. Three aspects of Mao's program will be examined here: its continuities with the original Stalinist model; its solution to the problem of the agricultural surplus; and its ''egalitarianism."

(1) At the core of the Maoist program was the very same set of policies that were enacted in Stalin's First Five-Year Plan: immediate nationalization, industrial speed-up drives, collectivization of the peasants, general austerity. And these measures had the same overriding goal as in Stalin's program, the fastest possible development of heavy industry. This point needs to be underlined: its full significance has not often been grasped. Thus, one noted scholar can write that "the Great Leap Fonvard marks the triumph of the Maoist approach over Soviet models,'' even though he recognizes that the Leap "does not mark a decisive break with one of the main features of the Stalinist model. ... There was to be no diversion of investment inputs from the heavy industrial sector." This statement does not do justice to the continuities between Stalinist and Maoist economics; for, the exclusive focus on heavy industry, which Mao borrowed from the Soviet First Five-Year Plan, entailed more than merely "a Stalinist conception of capital allocation. " (27) It also entailed a wide range of corollaries which touched the lives of every social group, from urban workers (the speed-ups) to the peasants (forced collectivization).

A number of additional similarities between Stalin's first plan and Mao's Great Leap Forward [ GLF] might be noted: for instance, the continual raising of production quotas from the attainable to the implausible to the impossible, coupled with attacks (under the guise of "class struggle") on all those who questioned the targets; the proliferation of military terminology -- the "production front," "battles" with nature, etc. -- with its emphasis on discipline and self-sacrifice; the insistence that all art and literature must serve to indoctrinate the workers and peasants in this ethic of military discipline and self-immolation; and the use of a rhetoric of mass participation to disguise increased exploitation. This last is worthy of particular consideration, for Western Maoists claim that workers' participation in management was one of the points on which Mao departed from Stalinist orthodoxy. Yet, participatory rhetoric was just as much a part of Stalin's economics as of Mao's. Stalin's speed-ups were always officially described as products of the workers' spontaneous demands. We do not need to turn back to the Soviet propaganda of the 1930s to see this; contemporary Stalinists continue to make the same claim. Thus we hear that Stakhanovism "arose from the initiatives of individual workers themselves .... What in other countries has generally been devised by functional foremen and efficiency experts, often in the teeth of relentless hostility from ordinary workers, was now being initiated by workers themselves." (28) Another eulogist of Stalin's Russia speaks of "the participation of workers in criticizing the five-year plan and drawing up revised plans of their own.'' (29) " In practice, talk of "mobilizing the masses" and "relying upon the creativity of the masses" has always signified a Stalinist-style crash industrialization, in China as much as in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Pro-Maoist scholars point to the fact that Mao was a severe critic of Soviet economics, including Stalin's own writings. (30) What they overlook is that Mao's attacks were leveled at the (post-Stalinist) Soviet economic orthodoxy of the 1950s, and at Stalin only insofar as he moved away from the pure Stalinist model in his later writings. Mao's references to the Soviet First Five-Year Plan, though infrequent, are invariably favorable: "At that time [1928] Stalin had nothing else to rely upon except the masses, so he demanded all-out mobilization of the party and the masses. Afterward, when they had realized some gains this way, they became less reliant on the masses." (31) Mao's reproach to Stalin was, it seems, that he stopped being a good Stalinist. Nor was Mao too hard on China's economic planners for their emulation of the Stalinist model in their own First Five-Year Plan; in fact, he stated that the first plan, though it "lacked creativity," was "basically correct." (32) It was only when the planners questioned the cardinal Stalinist principle of priority to heavy industry that Mao balked. If many writers have missed the essential point -- that Mao rejected the Soviet economic orthodoxy of the 1950s only in order to revive an earlier, and more repressive, Stalinist orthodoxy -- this is at least partly because they fail to distinguish between variations of the Soviet model, and therefore assume that the rejection of one particular variant is equivalent to discarding Soviet economics as a whole.

(2) As we have seen, the fundamental weakness of the Chinese economy was agriculture's inability to consistently provide an adequate surplus product, which caused industrial growth to fluctuate from year to year and made long-term planning impossible. The precondition for steady and rapid industrial growth was thus an increase in farm production. The appropriate technical measures to be applied were fairly clear: wider irrigation and improved flood control, more fertilizers, some kind of mechanization, etc. Up to this point, China's "Left" and "Right" could agree. The disagreement arose over the question of how to reach the common goal. The "rightist" approach -- which did not fully emerge until the early 1960s -- was to increase the share of central investment in agriculture, producing chemical fertilizers and pesticides, small pumps to mechanize irrigation, and other small machines such as garden tractors. (33) Obviously, investment would have to be diverted from heavy industry; moreover, the program could not be expected to accomplish any dramatic results in the immediate future, and therefore implied a lengthy delay in the industrial take-off. Mao's "Left" refused to accept any such postponement; they insisted that a plentiful agricultural surplus could be created almost overnight, and without a major diversion of central investment into agriculture. (34) Thus the basic principles of Stalinist crash modernization need not be discarded.

The key assumption of Mao's rural development program was that the technical transformation of agriculture could be achieved -- at little or no cost to the State -- by mobilizing un- and underemployed labor and economically marginal natural resources which would otherwise be unutilized. Large-scale labor mobilization projects were one pillar of the Maoist program: vast labor armies would be put to work building irrigation canals and dikes, collecting organic fertilizer, killing natural pests, etc. The second major motif in the "leftist" strategy was rural industrialization: small factories would be set up everywhere, financed by the local peasants; the best known example being the backyard iron and steel furnaces of 1958.

These local plants would produce mainly agricultural means of production, such as small tools and chemical fertilizers. It should be stressed that rural industrialization was not an end in itself, inspired by a vision of narrowing the gap between country and city, so much as a means of avoiding the transfer of central investment away from heavy industry. A third category of Maoist policies included several reforms of agricultural technique, such as closer planting and deeper plowing, which were universally popularized with little preliminary testing. All of these measures, taken together, were expected to produce fantastic increases in crop yields almost immediately. Since Mao's rural program had to accomplish something Stalin hadn't needed to do, namely to create a surplus product rather than merely extract an already-existing one, it was necessary to gain an even tighter control over the peasants' labor-power and means of production than Stalin had attempted: this, and not an ideological vision of communism, was the motive behind the People's Communes.

(3) It is the third aspect of the Maoist development strategy that has attracted the most attention from Western radicals: its relative egalitarianism. On this point, Mao certainly departed significantly from the Stalinist precedent; where Stalin imposed austerity only on the masses, Mao wanted to force the cadres to make sacrifices as well. Yet here, too, it can be argued that Mao only altered the Stalinist model in order to adapt it to the greater economic backwardness of China. The economic rationale of Mao's egalitarianism has in fact already been elaborated in some detail -- not by Mao's detractors, but by his admirers, who aim to defend him against the charge of economic irrationality and utopianism. (35) It is often pointed out, by scholars sympathetic to Maoism, that restriction of the bureaucracy's consumption was necessary to prevent it from becoming a drain on investment. And making the cadres participate in physical labor served not only to ensure that they helped to earn their keep, but also to allow them to supervise the workers and peasants more closely. (36) Similarly, Mao's educational reforms were aimed at slashing expenses on elite universities and stressing vocational training geared to the immediate needs of industry. Even his rural health program can be explained as intended "not only to relieve the hardship of chronic and almost universal bad health, but to minimize the consequent inefficiencies so that the population [could] get as much effective working energy as is possible out of a relatively low calorie intake." (37) The Maoist emphasis on liberating women by drawing them into the labor force, likewise, was a corollary of the labor mobilization strategy, which required the largest possible workforce. (38) Once it is realized that there were practical economic reasons behind all of these "egalitarian" policies, however, there is no longer any need to assume that Mao was motivated by socialist values; thus, the defense of his economic rationality undermines the image of Mao as humanistic reformer.

The mini-Leap Forward of 1955-56

As we have seen, the top Party bureaucrats had become disillusioned with the Stalinist strategy by early 1955 and were moving, at least provisionally, to the "right." Mao did not accept their decision. After touring the provinces, presumably to drum up support for his program, he called a conference of provincial Party secretaries in July and demanded that they step up the rate of collectivization. By the time the Central Committee met in October, he was able to present his colleagues with a fait accompli: collectivization was well under way, and without the disruptions they had feared. Mao followed up this victory by proposing a Twelve-Year Agricultural Program, which included a further acceleration of collectivization and projected vast increases in output, to be achieved through the labor-mobilization techniques described above. The program was put into practice without waiting for ratification from the Politburo. The rural cadres' lack of enthusiasm for collectivization was remedied by a campaign against "hidden counterrevolutionaries"; a new category of labor camp -- to which suspects could be deported without the formality of a trial -- was created for the occasion. Late in the year, a new speed-up drive was initiated in China's factories. At the same time, the remnants of private industry were nationalized and a massive investment drive was launched. (39)

Within months, the modified Stalinst program had run into the same problems as the orthodox Stalinist model. The speed-ups had familiar results: poor quality products, machine breakdowns, accidents, and worker unrest. Over-investment gave rise to competition for scarce resources, and as usual it was light industry which was sacrified. Furthermore, the State bureaucracy had difficulties managing the factories which it had taken over without adequate preparation. In the countryside, the situation was no better. Many peasants, still resenting being forced into collectives, resisted in the usual ways. They had further grounds for complaint: Mao's rural development plan increased their workload and lowered their living standards by cutting into the time available for family handicraft production and cultivation of private plots. Perhaps the most serious problem -- one which was to arise on a much wider scale in the Great Leap Forward -- reflected a consistent flaw in Mao's approach to rural development: new tools and techniques were adopted indiscriminately. Perhaps the most notorious example was the two-wheel, two-blade plow, one of Mao's hobby-horses. Hundreds of thousands of the plows were built in 1955-56 and sold to peasants who sometimes had to be forced to buy them. As it turned out, most of them had to be scrapped because of technical difficulties: the plows were too heavy and sank into the mud, there were not enough draft animals to pull them, etc. Errors of this sort, combined with bad weather, produced a disappointing harvest in 1956.

Mao's crash industrialization program had to be abandoned. The speed-up drive was halted, wages were raised, and workers were promised that the urban housing shortage would be relieved. The percentage of investment in light industry was to be increased. Concessions were also made to the peasants: private plots were restored where they had been taken away, rural free markets were re-opened, and prices for some agricultural goods were increased. Mao's Twelve-Year Agricultural Program was shelved. Many of the cadres who had opposed collectivization were released from the camps and restored to their posts, while those who had carried out the Leap-Forward program too enthusiastically were criticized for "commandism". At the Eighth Party Congress in September, the talk was all of modest, realistic planning and balanced growth.

With his program in trouble, Mao wisely retreated -- or was forced to retreat. At a Politburo meeting in April, he delivered a speech, "On the Ten Major Relationships," which incorporated many of the proposals of the Bukharinists. This speech has misled a number of scholars into concluding that Mao was himself a Bukharinist, or at least a critic of the Soviet heavy-industry-first strategy supposedly favored by his opponents. (40) But as we have seen, it was not Mao, but his opponents, who first questioned the priority of heavy industry; and Mao only adopted this position when his own policies had failed and were under attack as "adventurist. " This suggests that Mao's April speech represented a public concession to his opponents, not a statement of his own views. And in fact, it has been recently disclosed that Mao did not write " On the Ten Major Relationships"; the main drafter was one of Mao's Bukharinist critics. (41) Only by ignoring these facts can one make a case that the "Ten Major Relationships" demonstrates that Mao rejected the Stalinist development model; yet, this speech is the most important piece of evidence for the claim that Mao advocated a more consumer-and-agriculture oriented development program. Clearly, the theory rests on a shaky foundation.

The Impact of the Hundred Flowers Movement

For a few weeks in the spring of 1957, at Mao's insistence and against the will of most of the Politburo, open criticism of the Party by non-members was permitted -- indeed, demanded. In keeping with the standard interpretation of Mao as an opponent of bureaucratic oppression, this episode is usually seen as an attempt to make the Party more responsive to popular sentiment. However, there is another way of looking at the matter. In 1956-57, Mao was somewhat under a cloud; his policies had been rejected and his personality cult was being undermined (by, e.g., the removal of any reference to "Mao Zedong Thought" from the Party Constitution). (42) When out-voted in the Politburo, Mao often appealed to forces outside the Party's inner circle; sometimes -- in the case of the 1955-56 collectivization drive, for example -- he looked to other elements of the Party bureaucracy for support; sometimes he sought allies outside the Party, the most spectacular case being the Cultural Revolution. The Hundred Flowers Campaign can be seen as yet another of Mao's attempts to pressure his colleagues into accepting his policies by manipulating social forces.

Perhaps, then, Mao hoped that if he encouraged people to criticize the Party's arrogance and elitism, they would respond by supporting his economic program. The appeals to speak out freely were particularly directed to the "bourgeois intelligentsia," and Mao may have felt that their patriotic desire to see China become a world power would lead them to back his crash industrialization plan. If he had any such hopes, they were unfounded. Popular criticism went beyond attacks on individual cadres -- which would have been acceptable -- to question basic Party policy and even the Party's right to exercise dictatorship. Not all of the dissenters were conservatives or liberals; some of the attacks on Party rule came from a leftwing perspective. One student from a poor peasant background asserted that "a new class oppression" had emerged: "As for the means of production, the main Party, Government, and Army people, who hold power and represent a very small percentage of the people, own them in common and embellish this situation by calling it 'common ownership by the people.' " (43) The greatest ferment occurred on the campuses; but it was not only students who raised inexpedient demands. Union functionaries, for example, called for the right to organize unions free of Party control, and shop-floor representatives complained that they were required to "unconditionally support the management." If they objected to increased quotas and forced overtime, they would be accused of such deviations as "syndicalism" and "economism." "Some even accuse trade-union cadres of 'unprincipled compromise' with the masses.'' (44)

Faced with vehement attacks, including calls for the overthrow of Party dictatorship, the CCP put a quick end to the free speech movement and counterattacked with an "antirightist" campaign. Apparently, Mao had suffered another setback; not only had he failed to garner support for his economic projects, but he had provoked the resentment of Party members by forcing them to submit to outsiders' bitter denunciations. The Party, it seems, took a subtle revenge: quite a bit of personal invective against Mao was published in the official press, under the pretext of reporting the evil sayings of "bourgeois rightists." (45) Yet less than six months later, Mao was able to revive his Leap-Forward policies of 1955-56 on a much larger scale over the continuing opposition, or at least skepticism, of a large part of the top Party leadership. How did Mao transform apparent defeat into victory?

One factor in Mao's success was his manipulation of the tensions between provincial and central Party bureaucrats. The slowdown in growth, which the Bukharinists were prepared to accept, would leave the more underdeveloped provinces stranded in their backwardness for an indefinite period. At the Eighth Party Congress, several provincial Party secretaries asked the central leadership for more industrial investment. (46) It was Mao who answered their request, for one of the provisions of the GLF was that each province would have its own heavy-industrial base. (47) Those provincial Party bosses who backed Mao's call for a new Leap Forward were rewarded with promotions to the Central Committee in 1958. (48)

While support from the provinces was important to Mao, the strongest impetus to the revival of his neo-Stalinist program was no doubt the fact that the "right" turn of 1956-57 was not having the desired results. (49) Despite concessions to the agricultural producers, the performance of that key sector did not improve. Rural cadres, under less pressure from above in the last half of 1956, set lower quotas for the collective fields and reduced local investment. Mediocre weather also had its effect, and State grain procurements after the summer 1957 harvest fell short of the official quota.

Furthermore, even before the Hundred Flowers Movement, the general relaxation of controls was threatening to get out of hand. Thousands of peasants deserted the collectives in late 1956, and not all could be persuaded to return; and those who remained within the collective farm system often collaborated with the local cadres in undermining it. The officially sanctioned expansion of private plots also undercut the peasants' obligations to the State and reinforced their tendency to devote more labor-time and apply more organic fertilizer to their own land than to the collective fields. In the cities, workers reacted to the Party's vacillations of mid-1956 by staging dozens of strikes in the latter part of the year and the first half of 1957. (50) Thus workers and peasants responded to the Party's conciliatory gestures of 1956-57, not by working harder to achieve new economic successes, but rather by airing old grievances and pushing for further concessions. Politically, as well as economically, it seemed that the right turn was leading to a dead end. It is not surprising, then, that the Party was amenable to being persuaded to change courses once more -- especially since the repressiveness of the Stalinist program suited the bureaucracy's defensive and retaliatory mood after the Hundred Flowers. Furthermore, a good deal of China's social unrest was directly attributable to economic stagnation; in this light, a crash program may have seemed the most plausible way out of a potentially dangerous situation.

The Great Leap Forward

In response to the popular unrest revealed by the Hundred Flowers, the poor performance of the economy in 1956- 57, and the threatened loss of control over the peasants, the Party was already moving in a "leftist" (i.e., Stalinist) direction by the middle of 1957. After the summer harvest, a "socialist education campaign" was launched; its aim in the rural areas was to persuade the peasants to return to the collectives and to spend more time working the collective fields. (51) Opponents of collectivization -- rich peasants and ex-landlords, according to official accounts -- were punished as examples to the rest. Rural markets were closed down, in order to discourage the peasants from private labor. In the cities, the rebellious mood of the workers and students was met by repression. "Counter-Revolutionary Cases Involving Posting of Reactionary Slogans Broken in Liaoning Province," ran a typical headline of the period. One of the counterrevolutionaries, a worker in an auto plant, "had on many occasions scribbled reactionary slogans and distributed reactionary handbills. On 18 and 20 April, he distributed in a streetcar reactionary handbills slandering the leadership and inciting workers to stage strikes. " Another article described a group of "undesirable characters" recently taken into custody; among them were workers who "constantly violated labor discipline. They absented themselves from work without giving reasons, adopted the passive attitude of going slow with work, were insubordinate to the leadership, refused to take up the work assigned to them, and even went so far as to snap at the leadership and to sabotage means of production and state property." (52) This repression directed against even the slightest hint of worker resistance is not easy to reconcile with the claim that an "unprecedented experiment in, worker control and participation in management swept over the nation" during the GLF. (53)

It was in this general atmosphere -- a closing of Party ranks against outside criticism, a tightening of control over the masses -- that the first clear signs of a return to the Maoist strategy appeared. (54) A revised version of Mao's Twelve-Year Agricultural Program was on the agenda at the fall Central Committee meeting, and several of the slogans of the mini-Leap Forward were heard again. "Socialist education" in the countryside was intensified; now the main target was the "rightist conservatism" of the lower-level cadres, who had complained that the Party was squeezing too much grain out of the peasants and driving them to rebel. Some 3 percent of the basic-level cadres were purged. Hundreds of thousands of urban bureaucrats --"conservatives" who doubted the wisdom of the Party's turn to the "left" -- were criticized and sent down to work in factories and villages; they could redeem themselves by helping to strengthen the management of collectives and factories.

Throughout this period, from the summer of 1957 to the early fall of 1958, Mao was extremely active, touring the provinces time and again, no doubt to canvass support for the GLF. In November, he went to Moscow in search of economic aid, the last of China's Soviet credits having been exhausted; he returned to Beijing with empty pockets. It was clear that China would have to develop solely through its own efforts; this may have provided Mao with the clinching argument for mounting a new crash-industrialization drive. At any rate, it was only after Mao's return from Moscow that the Great Leap Forward really got under way. Over the winter of 1957-58, tens of millions of peasants were drafted into labor armies and put to work, almost bare-handed, on irrigation and flood control projects, fertilizer collection, pest control and land reclamation. Many of these undertakings, requiring more laborers than a single collective could spare, could only be organized through the joint efforts of several collectives: it was already becoming evident that the Maoist development strategy would require a higher level of collectivization.

In industry, the Leap Forward was slower in starting. At the turn of the year, an austerity program (a "rational low-wage system," in the official terminology) was introduced; apprentices were especially hard hit, their wages being slashed to subsistence level. In February 1958, production quotas were raised; throughout the rest of the year, quotas were raised again and again. Workshifts of 24 to 48 hours were not uncommon. Workers were so enthusiastic about the GLF, it was reported, that some refused to leave their factories for days on end; they slept and took their meals in the workshops. (Similar accounts were heard from the countryside: peasants were sleeping in their fields , so as not to waste time traveling between work and home. ) The factory trials of "saboteurs" and "rightists" continued, and the purges within the bureaucracy extended to include union functionaries who had been too quick, in 1955 and 1957, to expose the impact of speed-ups on workers. (55) The chairman of the State Economic Commission announced that safety inspectors should not take a "one-sided" view in favor of safety at the expense of production. (56)

While the industrial Leap Forward was gathering momentum, more elements of the Maoist agricultural program were introduced, including the building of small factories and the reform of techniques, such as closer planting. In July 1 August, Mao proposed the creation of a super-collective, the People's Commune, which would give the State greater control over the peasants' labor-power and means of production. As in 1955-56, the new upsurge of collectivization was initiated by Mao and only ratified by the Politburo after the movement was under way.

The outstanding feature of the Communes was the vast amount of labor they mobilized. Everyone worked longer and harder, often to the point of exhaustion. Officials at the Commune level could draft peasants at will to work in factories or labor-intensive projects. With most of the men thus occupied, women replaced them in the fields; public mess halls and nurseries supplanted the women's traditional domestic labor. Private plots and household production were abolished; all of the peasants' labor-time was to be at the State's disposal. The peasants were motivated to join the Communes, it has been argued, by the offer of generous grain rations, made possible by the excellent summer harvest. This sounds plausible enough; but, if there was any such increase of rations, it must have been very short-lived, for once the Communes were established the emphasis shifted to austerity. Before the Leap Forward, some 90 percent of each harvest was distributed among the peasants. In the People's Communes, the official norm was 60 percent for consumption, 40 percent for reserves and accumulation; and some Communes reported that they had distributed only 30 percent to the peasants. (57) Even taking account of the exceptional harvest of 1958 (25 percent above the 1957 level, according to official statistics; 11 percent according to Western economists), it seems clear enough that living standards must have declined for most peasants, though some few may have gained from the general leveling of incomes. Maximization of the rate of exploitation of the peasantry was evidently the raison d'etre of the People's Communes.

Communization marked the high point of the Leap Forward; within a few months, the Party had already begun to retreat. Provincial tours by top bureaucrats in November and December revealed widespread peasant discontent over low rations, too much work and the authoritarian methods of the rural cadres. At year's end, there was a campaign to "tidy up" the Communes. A Central Committee directive declared that peasants (and urban workers) must be allowed eight hours' sleep and four hours for rest and meals every day, women must not be required to do heavy work immediately before or after giving birth, and the armed rural militia must not be used to "impair ... democratic life in the communes.'' (58) Sideline production was again legalized. The campaign to build small iron and steel plants throughout the Communes and cities was halted, as most of the output of the backyard furnaces was unusable.

The retreat from the GLF continued into 1959. The situation in industry was chaotic: shortages of raw materials, machine breakdowns, deterioration of product quality, and mounting accident rates. The pace had to be slowed; central planning had to be restored. The rural masses were still restive; cadres and peasants conspired to hide grain from higher authorities. A first step towards the dismantling of the Communes was decided upon that spring: the production brigade (that is, the old collective) was to be the basic unit of ownership, management, and distribution. The Communes would no longer draft labor from the brigades, nor would incomes be equalized among brigades. But before the new policy could be carried out, the tide of Chinese politics turned once more.

The occasion was a frontal attack on Mao's policies by the Minister of Defense, Peng Dehuai, who castigated the GLF as "petty-bourgeois fanaticism." Peng's challenge to Mao raised the spector of a military threat to Party supremacy; he was also too close to Khrushchev to escape the suspicion that he was being used by the Russians. Hence the top bureaucrats either rallied around the Chairman or kept silent. Peng's defeat was followed, in the fall of 1959, by a new attack on "rightist tendencies," aimed at those who criticized the Leap Forward or questioned the Party's leadership. Winter 1959-spring 1960 saw a revival, though on a smaller scale, of the GLF.

But the abandonment of the Maoist strategy could not be delayed indefinitely; exceptionally bad weather in 1959-61, combined with the irrationalities of the Leap itself, led to a severe food crisis. At the depth of the crisis, malnutrition was widespread, and there were famines in some of the more backward areas; in some parts of the country, hunger drove the peasants into sporadic armed revolts, which were put down by the People's Liberation Army. (59) Mass starvation was only avoided by huge grain imports.

Food shortages and growing unrest required that Mao's experiment in crash industrialization be discontinued. By the middle of 1960, it was obvious that the Party's first priority must be to restore agricultural production, no matter how many concessions it might have to make to the peasants. Late in the year, the decision to transfer power down to the brigades was finally implemented. Private plots, sideline production and rural markets were restored. The peasants were allowed to keep 92 to 94 percent of the harvest. Most of the small plants were shut down, and the labor armies were disbanded. The peasants were encouraged to vent their rage upon their local leaders, who were criticized for "commandist" behavior (including murder and torture) during the organization of the Communes. (60) These measures were not enough to restore the peasants' confidence in the Party, and a year later more concessions followed. Decision-making power was now shifted down to the level of the production team (corresponding to the old cooperative). In practice, the Party had to go even farther in yielding to the "spontaneous capitalist tendencies" of the peasantry. The collective-farming system was eroded in a variety of ways: the size of the private plots was increased; peasants were allowed to keep land they cleared by themselves; collective land was rented to peasant households; and team cadres often contracted out work to the individual households, thereby restoring private ownership in all but name. These steps were not taken to the same extent in every locality, but in some provinces, half or more of the arable land was under private ownership or cultivation by early 1962. A general retreat from the Maoist/Stalinist development model was, then, the order of the day. If this had been merely an emergency program, to be followed by a return to the GLF, Mao would have had little to complain about; indeed, he himself vigorously participated in the attacks on lower-level cadres for their "leftist excesses" (that is, for carrying out his own orders too enthusiastically). But what the Party bureaucracy had in mind was more than a temporary retreat; in the mid-1960s they worked out their own alternative to Mao's neo-Stalinist strategy.

China's NEP and the Maoist Resurgence

The collapse of the GLF opened up a new period, which has been aptly titled "China's New Economic Policy," by analogy with the Soviet retreat from the "leftism" of War Communism. (61) Out of the immediate response to the food crisis emerged the new Agriculture-First strategy; heavy industry was now last in the official list of economic priorities. (62) Increased agricultural investment was not, it became clear, merely an emergency measure but the foundation of a long-range program. Nineteen-sixty-two marked the beginning of what one writer has called "China's Green Revolution." (63) Ten high-yield regions were selected to receive the benefits of the new agricultural investments. Heavy application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, improved seed varieties, mechanized irrigation and more extensive multiple cropping combined to create an impressive rise in output. At the same time, there was considerable progress in research on mechanization; and in the mid-1960s, factories began to turn out a wide variety of new machines adapted to the technical requirements of Chinese agriculture.

The principle of detente with the peasants was firmly established; at the Tenth Plenum in September 1962, the revisions in the Commune system were reaffirmed. Some, including Deng, wanted to go farther; they argued for legitimizing the household contracts or even (if Red Guard reports are to be believed) legally restoring private land ownership. (64) However, Mao succeeded in blocking this move. In industry, there was a new emphasis on profit quotas rather than sheer volume of physical output. The nationwide speed-ups were not revived; "socialist emulation" became purely ritualized. (Which is not to say, of course, that there were never attempts to speed-up workers in a particular factory or that working conditions were ideal; poor safety conditions have often been observed by foreign tourists. (65) ) Late in 1963, the reorganization of industry into "socialist trusts" was begun on a trial basis in several branches of production. (66) Each trust was to encompass all of the nationalized enterprises in a particular branch; the directors would be granted a wide margin of freedom from Party and State control, and investment decisions were to be based on the profit principle. As part of the industrial reorganization, plants which operated at a loss were shut down, and thousands of superfluous workers were sent down to the countryside.

Although there was a general improvement of living conditions under the new policies, there were still many groups with specific grievances. (67) Much of the potential dissent was directly linked to the economic slowdown of the early 1960s. Graduating students, for example, discovered that there were not enough jobs; many could look forward only to years of unemployment or, worse, being sent down to the villages. Workers in modern industry were in a relatively privileged and secure position, but a large segment of the urban labor force -- the sub-proletariat of temporary and contract workers -- were not so fortunate. (68) Hired at the lowest wages for the hardest and most dangerous jobs, with none of the fringe benefits granted to permanent workers, housed in wretched conditions, they had ample reason to resent the architects of the new economic policy. By the mid-1960s, according to one estimate, the sub-proletariat made up about 30 to 40 percent of the nonagricultural workforce. (69)

Potential sources of opposition to the dominant "rightist" faction also existed within the bureaucracy itself. New job opportunities were not opening up as rapidly as in the first plan period, and with the top positions monopolized by the older generation of civil war veterans, prospects for advancement seemed dim for ambitious young apparatchiks. In addition, the new emphasis on technical expertise rather than loyalty to the Party line threatened the careers of those who were unable to adapt to the new demands. Tensions within the apparatus and discontent among the urban population provided opportunities. which Mao was soon to take advantage of, for political agitation.

After brief semi-retirement from the political scene, Mao returmed to center stage at the Tenth Plenum. He called for a "Socialist Education Campaign" in the countryside, designed to strengthen the collective elements of the rural economy and take back some of the concessions made to the peasants during the crisis years. (70) The 1957 campaign of the same name had prepared the way for an increase of the level of collectivization; that Mao intended a repeat performance seems likely. The peasants were encouraged to "Learn from Dazhai," a model production brigade which reportedly raised output tremendously through strenuous efforts, a high rate of investment. and voluntary austerity. One pro-Maoist author who visited Dazhai and interviewed its leader, Chen Yongguei notes -- in all innocence -- that the neighboring villages "distrusted Ch'en and his tendency to deliver the maximum amount of grain to the state." (71) That is: Chen and his brigade were agricultural rate-busters. The Daqing oilfields provided a similar model for industrial workers. The "Daqing spirit" has been summed up in the "ten no's," which include "fearing neither hardship nor death" and "paying no heed to whether working conditions are good or bad, whether working hours are long or short, whether pay and position are high or low. (72) Mao also called for a revival of the program of rural industrialization. (73) Where all of this was heading is clear enough -- back to the GLF.

In these initiatives, Mao received the full support of Defense Minister Lin Biao. (74) It was the People's Liberation Army [PLA], not the Party, which first distributed the famous Little Red Book of Mao quotes, and it was the Army which sponsored Jiang Qing's socialist-realist refashioning of Chinese opera. The entire population was adjured to "Learn from the PLA" and from model soldiers like Lei Feng, whose only desire was to be a "rust-proof screw" in the revolutionary machinery. In the factories and villages, the People's Militia -- which fell under the PLA's chain of command -- played a major role in the "Socialist Education Campaign." By contrast, the Party claimed to be carrying out Mao's directives, but in fact consistently undermined them. For example, "socialist education" was used as a pretext for purging basic-level cadres who had supported Mao's line; among those who came under fire was Dazhai's Chen Yongguei, who was saved only by Mao's intervention. (75) Mao became impatient with the Party's obstructions and concluded that he could no longer win over his Politburo colleagues to his point of view; he would have to purge them. In the past, Mao had demonstrated his ability to manipulate conflicts within the bureaucracy and had even attempted to use the masses against the apparatus. In the coming Cultural Revolution, he would try to do the same but on a far larger scale, since he had to overcome much greater resistance from the Party this time.

In 1966 Mao, with a strong assist from Lin's Army, launched a "revolution" against the bureaucratic apparatus of which he was the nominal leader: the Chinese Communist Party. Mao's battle plan, which seems to have been partly worked out in advance and partly improvised, was based on students' and workers' discontents and cadres' frustrated career ambitions. Mao's attack on his "revisionist" Party opponents provided the younger bureaucrats, and those who had been pushed aside during the course of the "rightist" trend, with an opportunity to better their positions, as well as an ideological rationale for doing so. Student and worker unrest was the weapon which these Maoist cadres were to use against the "capitalist-roaders." For the most part, the PLA was to be held in reserve, though it played some role in assisting the student Red Guard groups and probably had a hand in the Maoist seizure of power in Beijing. (76)

It would be out of place here to trace out all of the twists and turns of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution [GPCR], but one point does need to be made. (77) Many have seen Mao's appeal to the masses to "bombard the (Party) headquarters" as an indication that his goal was "strengthening the position of the people vis-a-vis the powerful Party and government structures." A brief look at the role of workers in the GPCR in Shanghai, where the Maoist faction accomplished its most successful "power seizure," will put this interpretation to the test. (79) All attempts by the Shanghai Maoists to topple the municipal Party Committee by mobilizing local students (reinforced by Maoist students from Beijing) were easily stalemated, as the Party proved equally adept at organizing student and worker support. It was only when the Maoists urged the sub-proletariat to revolt -- Jiang Qing denounced contract labor as "capitalist" and promised to abolish it -- that the Party's power crumbled and the "Gang of Four" stepped into the ensuing power vacuum. Once in charge, however, the Maoists retracted all of their promises to the underprivileged workers; their organizations were branded "counterrevolutionary" and broken up by the police. Although most of the city's workers refused to obey the Maoists back-to-work order, their strikes were gradually broken by soldiers, students and Maoist workers. A show of force by the local PLA garrison -- its commander declared that it would "ruthlessly suppress" all opposition to the new administration, and troops were paraded through the streets to back up the threat -- may have contributed to the success of the Maoists' strikebreaking. It could hardly be clearer that the masses played a limited role in Mao's scheme. Although they made the "revolution," the workers and students were to have no part in defining its goals.

Throughout most of the country, the Maoist plan did not work as well as in Shanghai. Maoist and anti-Maoist mass organizations fought it out in the streets, and China was soon, as Mao himself said, on the brink of civil war. In the end the Army had to be called in to restore order-and this restoration of law and order ultimately required mass arrests and sometimes public executions of "anarchists" and "Guomindang agents" -- that is, Red Guards who continued to resist the new authorities. (80)

After the Cultural Revolution

Since the Army, led by a loyal Maoist, was in control, it might have seemed at first glance that conditions were ideal for a revival of the GLF development strategy. But the Army itself was ridden with factional intrigues; Lin did not even have a firm grip on his central military machine, and the sympathies of the regional commanders lay with the old guard. Half of the provinces, at most, were in the hands of reliable allies of Mao and Lin. Mao's "revolution" had been far from a total success.

Nonetheless, the Mao/Lin faction did try to revive the Leap Forward in 1969-71. (81) Lin Biao raised the banner of a new "Flying Leap" inscribed with old Maoist slogans, such as "More, better, faster, cheaper." The GLF's "Everyone a Soldier" motto was echoed by Lin's demand that "700 million people, 700 million soldiers ... become a single military camp." The most consistent Maoist advances were made in the fields of education and culture, the strongholds of the "Gang of Four." In industry, material incentives came under attack, and there were sporadic efforts to launch a new speed-up drive. However, these policies were not applied with the same vigor as in the GLF and did not spread beyond the regions where the Mao/Lin group held power. The same might be said of agricultural policy; all of the elements of the Leap-Forward strategy reappeared, but only in limited geographical areas. Labor batalions were again set to work on irrigation projects, and locally financed rural industries flourished once more. Private plots, rural markets, and private handicrafts were threatened. There were renewed efforts to transfer decision making power up to the brigade level. After the excellent spring 1970 harvest, State grain procurements were increased. Where these policies were applied, they soon met with the same results as in the GLF and the mini-Leap; for example, peasants responded to the higher procurements by slacking off during the harvesting.

These attempts to return to policies which had repeatedly proven dangerous no doubt solidified Party resistance to Mao and his chosen successor; by September 1971 Lin had permanently vanished from the scene, and along with him went Chen Boda, Mao's chief theoretician and (some say) ghostwriter. Several conflicting stories were issued by the authorities; the final version was that Lin had died in a plane crash while fleeing to the Soviet Union after a failed coup d'etat. Whatever the truth about the Lin Biao affair -- whether he actually did clash with Mao (perhaps over foreign policy, as Lin is known to have opposed detente with the US) or whether Mao simply went along with a purge which he was powerless to prevent (82) Lin's fall was in any case a fatal blow to Mao's hopes of resurrecting his neo-Stalinist development strategy. It deprived Mao of his main source of military support and marked the beginning of the decline of the Maoist faction that culminated in the arrest of Mao's last handful of loyalists after his death.

From 1973 to 1976 Mao's personal entourage, the "Gang of Four," launched a series of increasingly desperate attacks on the "revisionist" old guard, which was steadily regaining the ground it had lost in the GPCR. (83) Most of the purged "capitalist- roaders" were rehabilitated, despite the Maoists' opposition. The "Criticize Lin Biao, Criticize Confucius," "Study the Dictatorship of the Proletariat," "Criticize Water Margin," and "Criticize Deng Xiaoping and Beat Back the Right Deviationist Wind" campaigns were all episodes in the Maoists' futile struggle to mobilize the masses for a new Cultural-Revolutionary assault on the Party "rightists." The issue at stake in this ongoing political contest was the fate of Mao's social and economic program.

That the Maoists' goal in industry remained the same as in the GLF can be readily seen from the wall posters put up by Maoist cadres and workers during the 1974 "Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius" campaign: the main themes of the posters were raising output and restricting consumption. Factory leaders were criticized for a variety of errors -- being "generous in giving out overtime payments"; organizing festivities and handing out small gifts to celebrate the overfulfillment of the yearly plan, which "can only weaken morality and undermine fighting spirit"; failing to go to the grassroots and "mobilize the masses' immense socialist enthusiasm"; and surrendering to workers' demands that they be allowed to go home after meeting their daily quota. The positive models held up for workers and managers included a shock brigade of auto-repair workers who worked more than ten hours a day without lunch breaks, accomplishing a month's work in five days; the managers of a coal mine who organized the older workers to criticize their younger colleagues, who had "complained of hardship, feared hard work, and could not meet good labor discipline," with the result that the younger workers were transformed into a "shock force in production"; and a labor hero who induced his fellow workers to do "two years' work in one" and was rewarded with a promotion. (84) In agriculture, as well, the "Gang of Four" (or Five, counting Mao) harked back to the GLF; thus, during the 1975 "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" campaign, private plots were again seized and rural markets abolished in a few provinces. (85)

The final act in the drama, played out in the two years after Mao's death, pitted Deng's "rightist" old guard against a moderate Maoist group, led by Hua Guofeng and consisting of bureaucrats who had advanced during the GPCR but were not identified with the more extreme form of Maoism represented by the "Gang." The details of this stage of the struggle will be examined in the next issue of this magazine; for the moment, it will suffice to note that the battle has ended in total victory for Deng. The last vestiges of Maoism are being eradicated, and the Bukharinist program has been implemented even more thoroughly than during the early 1960s. Political conflict will undoubtedly continue in China, especially if the new right turn leads into another blind alley; but, it does not seem likely that the Maoist/Stalinist development strategy will ever be revived again. I hope the reader will agree that this fact is no occasion for regret.

[poster's note: footnotes to be added when they become available]



1 year ago

Submitted by ZJW on May 19, 2023

The missing footnotes to the above can be seen (in so far as they are legible) on PDF pages 28-30 of the image file of this issue: .

Theory and practice: an introduction to Marxian theory - Root and Branch

1979 article by Root and Branch, introducing Marxist theory.

Submitted by libcom on December 20, 2010

Thus we do not confront the world dogmatically with a new principle, proclaiming: Here is the truth, kneel before it! We develop for the world new principles out of the principles of the world. We do not say to the world: give up your struggles, they are stupid stuff, we will provide you with the true watchword of the struggle. We merely demonstrate to the world why it really struggles, and consciousness is something that it MUST adopt, even if it does not want to do so. Karl Marx, 1843. (1)

In his critique of the leftwing philosophies attacked as the "German Ideology," Karl Marx contrasted communist literature that can be thought of "merely as a set of theoretical writings" with that which is "the product of a real movement." In his polemic against the so-called True Socialists, he pointed out that theory, as an activity of particular people carried out in particular social contexts, does not develop by a process of 11 pure thought" but springs "from the practical needs, the whole conditions of life of a particular class in particular countries."(2) In his own theoretical work his aim was to serve what he considered the practical needs of the working class in its struggle against capitalism throughout the world. This for Marx did not mean an abandonment of claims to objectivity or scientific truth, but the opposite. Those who wish to control their social-(as their natural) conditions of life need to understand the situations in which they find themselves and the possible choices of action within these situations. Such a view meant that, on the other hand, Marx's opposition to utopian thought did not imply submission to a pre-determined historical process. By "scientific socialism," as Marx out it in reply to criticism by Bakunin, he meant-in contrast with "utopian socialism which seeks to foist new fantasies upon the people"-"the comprehension of the social movement created by the people themselves."' The historical process Marx was interested in would consist precisely in people's attempts to change the society in which they find themselves. Theoretical work, in leading to a better understanding of society and so of the tasks involved in changing it, should serve as an element of these attempts.

Marx states in The German Ideology.: "The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. ... The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of the politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, of a people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. -real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to them.. - Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process. (4)

Once consciousness is construed as the organization of human activity, then revolutionary consciousness, like its opposite, can be understood as the systems and quasi-systems of conceptions, feelings, etc. by means of which people organize their revolutionary (or non-revolutionary) behavior. All action involves theory, or at least some degree of coherent thinking. Like everyone, revolutionaries think about what they are doing: the theoreticians among them are those who try to systematize and explore and understand the human interactions that constitute the social status quo and the movement against it.

Although this understanding of the role of thought in revolutionary activity runs throughout Marx's development as a thinker, only in the course of real political experiences (and reflection thereon) did its implications emerge. A major turning-point seems to have been the revolutionary period of 1848-49 on the Continent, which saw Marx return from exile to edit a left democratic newspaper in Cologne. As Friedrich Engels, at that time already Marx's closest friend and political companion, explained in the introduction he wrote for a collection of Marx's articles from that period,

"When the February Revolution broke out (in France in 18481, we all of us, as far as our conceptions of the conditions and the course of revolutionary movements were concerned, were under the spell of previous historical experience in particular that of the French Revolution of 1789. What all revolutions up to then (the bourgeois revolutions) had in common was that they were minority revolutions. Even where the majority took part, it did so-whether wittingly or not, only in the service of a minority; but because of this, or simply because of the passive, unresisting attitude of the majority, this minority acquired the appearance of being the representative of the whole people."

It seemed as though the proletarian revolution would have the same form. In this case, however, the minority leading the revolution would for the first time be actually acting in the interest of the majority. The minority was needed for this leadership role, it seemed at the time, because "the proletarian masses themselves, even in Paris, were still absolutely in the dark as to the path to be taken. And yet the movement was there, instinctive, spontaneous irrepressible." It needed for success only guidance from the vanguard, those who, combining in themselves understanding of history, economics, and a philosophical comprehension of the tasks of humanity, would be able to administer the creation of the new social world. (5)

The parallel with the position of the Marxists in the Russian Revolution of 1918 is worth noting. We find Engels in 1853 guessing that on the next outbreak of revolution "our Party will one fine morning be forced to assume power" to carry out the bourgeois revolution. Then, "driven by the proletarian populace, bound by our own printed declarations... we shall be constrined to undertake communist experiments ... the untimeliness of which we know better than anyone else. In doing so we lose our heads-only physically speaking, let us hope." The similarity between the "backward country like Germany" at this time, "'which possesses an advanced party and is involved in an advanced revolution with an advanced country like France" and the situation of Russia in relation to the German revolution following the first world war explains the eerie character of Engels' ideas as prophetic of the Bolshevik seizure of power(6). In the event, however, Lenin and Trotsky took care to save their heads, physically speaking even at the expense of those of the more revolutionary workers.

As Engels noted, history proved this vision of minority-directed revolution, classically associated with the name of Blanqui, wrong. In fact, despite alliances with Blanquist groups during 1848-50, Marx (and Engels).already by this time seem to have rejected this vanguardist model of revolution. They argued for open democracy, instead of conspiratorial secrecy and hierarchy, within the communist organizations they worked with; for democracy structured by mass meetings and recallability of delegates, as the basis for "proletarian dictatorship"; and, above all, for the conception that communism could not be imposed. by the will of political thinkers and activists but could only be created by a vast mass movement in response to actual social conditions. (7)

A communist movement, in Marx's opinion, could only arise as the development of the capitalist system transformed the majority of the population into wage-workers. In 1848-50, Marx and his friends believed that this development was proceeding 'quite rapidly, but in reality Europe was far from ripe for communism. Capitalism was only getting started in the first half of the nineteenth century, and the series of economic and social crises that followed that of 1847 were milestones on a road of continued and rapid economic growth. It was this development, wrote Engels in the text quoted above, which "for the first time produced clarity in the class relationships" by creating a real capitalist and a real proletarian class. The process of economic growth which pushed these classes "into the foreground of capitalist development" was also a process of struggle between them. By making it possible for masses of workers to understand their common interest and common antagonism to their employers, this process clarified the conditions of socialist revolution.

In fact Engels proved optimistic; the growth of Social Democracy did not represent the clarification of the nature of the class struggle that he thought it did in its first decades. The events of 1848 and the subsequent development of capitalism and of the socialist movement had, however, a definite effect on Marx's thought. In the first place, it turned Marx's attention to economic crisis as a key to the existence and meaning of the socialist movement. His renewed study of economics in the 1850s reflected his conviction that socialist revolution would have to come out of a response to social conditions on the part of the workers. Hence Marx dedicated his life's work to showing how capitalism, in its very process of growth and development, simultaneously creates the form and the content of its overthrow.

Marx's position was, generally, that the social interdependency, brought about by industrial capitalism, both within and between workplaces of different types would provide a basis both for revolutionary action against the old, and for the creation of a new, society. The transformation of peasant agriculture into large-scale farming by wage-labor for the market and the development of mass-production industry have bound the producers economically-and so socially-to each other. As each individual's productive labor requires coordination with his colleagues', so the individual's consumption depends upon the productive work of countless others. This characteristic of the current system explains the ideal formulated by its socialist opponents of a "collective commonwealth of labor," in which the producers themselves (and not a distinct class of owners or managers) would jointly control their labor and its products.

The nature of the goal dictates the form which revolutionary organizations must have. Ultimately, the "revolutionary organization" will have to be the working class as a whole; thus, Marx spoke of particular organizations as episodes "in the history of the party which everywhere grows up naturally and spontaneously from the soil of -modem society."' He essential, therefore, that the working class. movement. avoid the characteristics of the leftwing sect. The sect, as Marx put it in a letter, "sees the justification for its existence and its point of honor. not in what it has in common with the class movement but in the particular shibboleth which. distinguishes it from the movement." The attitude of the 'sectarian theoretician and leader-exemplified for Marx by Proudhon, Bakunin, and Lasalle-is (as he wrote of the latter) that "instead of looking among the genuine elements of the class movement for the real basis of his agitation, he wanted to prescribe the course to be followed by this movement according to a certain doctrinaire recipe." This is not to say that sects cannot have useful insights to offer the movement. Marx, for instance, honored Fourier, in contradistinction to the Fourierists; for the former wrote in a period in which "doctrinaire" propaganda could not interfere with the growth of the (barely existing) movement. To the extent that a real workers' movement put into existence, the little parties and groups should " merge in the class movement and make an end of all sectarianism." (9)

Thus the General Rules which Marx drew up in 1864 for the International Working Men's Association, began with Flora Tristan's dictum, "That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working class themselves." The International was intended to be the opposite of a sect, in both theory and practice. It proclaimed as its business, in Marx's words, "to combine and generalize the spontaneous movements of the working classes, but not to dictate or impose any doctrinaire system whatever."(10) And, regarding organization, Marx argued against centralism, on the grounds that a centralist structure, -though appropriate to sectarian movements, "goes against the nature of trade unions," struggle organizations of workers. Typical of his attitude is his remark in a letter of 1868 that especially in Germany, "where the worker's life is regulated from childhood on by bureaucracy and he himself believes in the authoritarian bodies appointed over him, he must be taught above all else to walk by himself." In the same spirit, Marx refused the presidency of the International in 1866, and soon afterwards convinced its General Council to replace the post with that of a chairman to be elected at every weekly meeting.

This attitude was reflected in Marx's conception of the tasks of intellectuals in the movement. He put his writing skills at the service of the International, in preparing statements of position, official communications, and so forth. In addition, we should note the project of an "Enquete Ouvriere, " a questionnaire which Marx publisher in the Parisian Revue Socialiste in I880, and had reprinted and distributed to workers' groups, socialist and democratic circles, "and to anyone else who asked for it" in France. The text has the form of 101 questions about working conditions, wages, hours, effects of the trade cycle, and also about workers' defense organizations, strikes and other forms of struggle, and their results. Though this might be described as the first sociological survey, its preface urges workers to reply, not to meet the data needs of sociologists or economists, but because only workers can describe "with full knowledge the evils which they endure" just as "they, and not any providential saviors, can energetically administer the remedies for the social ills from which they suffer." Strategy and tactics, to use the terms of more recent leftwing theory, can only be created by workers who know their concrete conditions, not by "leaders-." Intellectuals can, however, play an important role in the collection and transmission of information; thus, the results of the Enquete were to be analyzed in a series of articles for the Re-vue, and; eventually,. a book. (12)

The main task that Marx took on as a revolutionary intellectual, however, as the task- of theory: the elaboration of a set of concepts, at a fairly abstract level, that would permit a better comprehension of the struggle between labor and capital. He prefaced the French serial edition of the first volume of Capital with an expression of pleasure, because "in this form the book will be more accessible to the working class-a con- sideration which to me outweighs everything else." (13) The function of theory was to help the movement as a whole clarify its problems and possibilities; it did not, in Marx's view, place the theorist in a dominating (or "hegemonic," as the currently fashionable euphemism has it) position vis-a-vis the movement, but was rather what he had to contribute to a collective effort.

In the light of the career of official Marxism since Marx's time, his criticism of Feuerbach's recasting of eighteenth century materialism has a prophetic cast:

"The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and education forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that the educator must himself be educated. This doctrine has therefore to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.' (14)

-Or, we may add, superior to the class it claims it represents, just as the philosophes claimed to represent the interests of society or of humanity as a whole. And in fact, as the "unity of theory and practice," in the form of "scientific socialism," became a basic element of orthodoxy in those organizations and currents of thought which presented themselves as Marxist, it took on just this doctrinal flavor.

The relationship of revolutionary theory to political practice acquired the practical form of the relationship of theorists (mostly middle-class intellectuals) within political organizations to the masses of workers they supposedly represented and gave direction to. For instance, by maintaining that "without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement," Lenin in 1902 meant that "socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without and not something that arose within it spontaneously." He quoted Kautsky, the high priest of Social Democratic orthodoxy:

"Of course. socialism, as a doctrine, has its roots in modern economic relationships just as the class struggle of the Proletariat has and, like the latter, emerges from the struggle against the capitalist-created poverty and misery of the masses. But socialism and the class struggle arise side by side and not one out of the other.. . . Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge.. . The vehicles( science is not the proletariat but the bourgeois intelligentsia... the task of Social Democracy is to imbue the proletariat with the consciousness of its position and the consciousness of its task."

Thus, as Lenin continued in his own words, "since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement, the only choice is either bourgeois or socialist ideology"-in either case supplied by the intellectuals." (15)

This position reflected. (and was to justify) the actual division of labor within the Marxist movements, which, like the division in society as a whole, lay between professional leaders, or decision-makers, and the masses, who were to be provided by the former with outlook, strategy, and tactics. Aside from its outward implausibility as a theory of consciousness and of how it changes, that this position represented only an ideological expression of the interests of the professional revolutionaries as a social group was amply shown by events around the time of the first world war. In Western Europe, Marxist theory, "orthodox" as well as "revisionist," turned out to be compatible with an organizational practice that was not only less revolutionary than, but actively reactionary in comparison with, the response of large numbers of workers to the new crisis conditions. In Germany and Russia (as elsewhere) Marxist organizations responded to the revolutionary upheavals that followed the war either (in the West) as saviors of capitalism or (in Russia) as the creators of a new state power suppressing the attempts of workers to gain direct power over production. Social Democracy, in its reformist and in its revolutionary (Bolshevik) forms alike, showed its relation to the deeds of particular classes in particular countries- the rationalization, especially through state action, of capitalism in the West; and the creation of a new class society to carry out the process of industrialization forbidden the bourgeoisie in the underdeveloped East.

In contrast to the dominant interpretation of the "unity of theory and practice" as the control of the workers' movement by the Party and of socialist society by the party-state, around the turn of the century Rosa Luxemburg revived Marx's conception by expressing the idea that a truly socialist movement must be "the first in the history of class societies which reckons, in all its phases and throughout its entire course, on the organization and the direct, independent action of the masses." As she saw it, "social democratic activity ... arises historically out of the elementary class struggle," and becomes "aware of its objectives in the course of the struggle itself." In her opinion the activity of the self-proclaimed carrier of revolutionary theory, the bourgeois intelligentsia, constituted a subsidiary and politically less dependable element of the revolutionary process. It posed the threat, as she saw long before the Bolshevik coup d'etat, of dictatorship over the proletariat, in the left organizations and the. future society alike. Against Kautsky and Lenin, she proclaimed that

"The working class demands the right to make its own mis- takes and learn in the dialectic of history. Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee." (16)

This position too reflected the experience and needs of a particular segment of society at a particular time- not only ultraleft theoreticians but also the working-class militants with whom they associated in their organizational activity. By Rosa Luxemburg's time there was considerable evidence both of the negative effects on workers' radicalism of trade-union and parliamentary politics and of workers' ability to organize their own radical activity in the absence of, and indeed in the face of, official left organizational, efforts. The truth of Luxemburgs perceptions was shown decisively, on the one hand, by the class-collaborationist policy of the Second International in Western Europe in 1914, and by the development of the Bolshevik dictatorship in Russia; and, on the other, by the spontaneously organized revolutions in Germany and- Russia, as well as similar, though less spectacular, occurrences throughout the West. Moreover, while Rosa Luxemburg still believed in the necessity of a party organization as the basis for revolution, the actual events showed the greater importance of new forms of organization arising from the social relationships in which workers' lives were structured. In the factory committees, in soviets,- and in workers', soldiers', and peasants' councils, Marx's concept of the development of the new society in the womb of the old took on a concrete meaning. This historical experience therefore involved also a justification of Marx's attitude towards the relation of "consciousness," theoretical and tactical, to the real activity of social groups.

These events provoked a rebirth of revolutionary analysis, as militants involved in, or affected by, the post- World War I struggles attempted to understand the failure of the Second International, the counter- revolutionary character of the Third (and its Trotskyist caricature), and the potentiality for new forms of social organization and action revealed by the mass revolutionary movements. Such thought was also stimu- lated by the efforts made by Spanish workers and peasants in the development of communist socialist relations in the revolution of 1936-37. In the thirties and forties, theorists once again tried to understand reality with regard to the needs of revolution; we may note here work in political and economic theory by Otto Ruehle, Anton Pannekoek, Paul Mattick, Karl Korsch, and Henryk Grossmann.

With the collapse of the inter-war revolutionary movements, however, and the solution through the second world war of the immediate crisis situation that had begun for world capitalism in 1929, the ideas disappeared with the activities they had been attempts to understand and structure. The result was that the Leninist version of social democratic orthodox Marxism," now the official ideology of several totalitarian states, survived as representative of Marxist theory. This was challenged only by a professorial, philo- sophical, "humanist" Marxism, which drawing inspiration particularly from the works of Marx's youth, made use neither of Marx's analysis of capitalism nor of the consequences to be drawn from it for revolutionary action.

In the East, particularly in the satellite countries, Marx's critique of economics was quite understandably identified as an ideological prop for the Stalinist system. In the West, Capital seemed even more out of touch with economic reality than at the turn of the century when Bernstein and his followers had turned their backs on Marxist orthodoxy. The abolition of capitalism in Russia had obviously not resulted in the achieve- ment of workers' power. On the other hand, capitalist society had not evolved in the direction of an obvious polarity between a small group of rich capitalists and a mass of impoverished proletarians, periodically reduced to total destitution by economic crisis. While control over capital has been continually centralized, the small group of the very rich and powerful stand at the top of a continuum of wealth and privilege, in which status and income-level seem to replace class (i.e., relation to the means of production) as the center of analytical interest. Furthermore, the combination of the war with Keynesian policies in peacetime has made possible continuous economic growth and rising incomes for large numbers of workers.

For the twenty-odd years of relative social stability that followed World War 11, proponents of the status quo and leftish critics alike by and large agreed that capitalism had escaped Marx's "iron-laws." The basis for economic conflict between workers and bosses was eroded by technological advance and political manipulation of the economy, which together made for permanent prosperity and the satisfaction at least of all material demands. While the official voices of sociology, economics, and political science celebrated this situation as the "end of ideology," however, leftwing pessimists bemoaned it as the advent of a "one dimensional" society, in which no oppositional force was left but ideology, in the form of a "critical theory" (or of "cultural revolution"). They agreed with conservatives that material opposition to the system was re- stricted to the threat posed by the so-called socialist systems of Russia, China, and their allies. Hope for change in the world rested first of all on the peasants of the Third World, though they would find allies in the developed countries among disadvantaged minorities and the student movement. The Leninist character of this picture of the theory-possessing vanguard, deserted by the labor-aristocratic masses, awaiting the com- mencement of capitalism's destruction at its weakest links, goes far in explaining the apparently bizarre transition in some New Leftists from an interest in "culture" and "liberatory lifestyles" to militaristic guerrilla fantasies.

If such views could be crudely, labeled "Stalino-humanism," a related but, in my eyes, more interesting set of ideas emerged from the Trotskyist critique of the Soviet Union, which was identified as the vanguard in capitalism's current tendency to monopolization and state regulation. This current (represented variously by Socialism ou Barbarie, the English Solidarity, Facing Reality in Detroit, the group around Murray Bcokchin, the Situationist International, and others) revived the earlier ultraleft criticism of Leninism, which was now equated with Marxism. The onset of permanent prosperity was seen as neither a cause for pessimism nor the deathblow to ideology. On the contrary, just by suggesting the possibility of total satisfaction of every desire, modem capitalism -East and West-was bound to produce a conflict between its promise and the restrictions placed on its fulfillment by the institutions of private property and the state. The old conflict between an impoverished working class and a rich ruling class gave way only to expose the deeper, and unsolvable, contradiction between those -who control the lives of others and those who are controlled, in a period of history when the end of scarcity made such a division irrational. Again the issues were clearly not "economic" but ones of social and spiritual liberation. Marxism was rejected insofar as it was thought to make this distinction and concentrate on the former.

Both of these leftwing tendencies, along with bourgeois sociology, restricted their appreciation of Marx to his earlier works. The rediscovery of these explorations of "alienation" appealed to those who rejoiced in, as to those who worried about, the cultural malaise that seemed a byproduct of material well-being. But the end of the "permanent prosperity" in the late 1960s; the failure of the "technological revolution" to leave the sphere of armaments production; the increasing assimilation of the conditions and consciousness of the "new," technical and intellectual, working class to those of their bluecollar fellows (including the experience of mass unemployment); and the disintegration of student leftism and the "youth" movement as such have all brought about a renewal of interest in Marx's chief work, the -theory of capitalist development.

At the same time, the practical insignificance the revolutionary Leninist sects and the' self-proclaimed reformism of the mass left parties in the West leaves the way open to a rediscovery of the creative possibilities of the working class in a capitalism that is entering once more into visible-painfully visible-crisis. As Marx's theory of economic change is one with his theory of revolution, the renewed interest in Capital should go hand in hand with consideration of the views about the nature of radical politics. Once again it may be possible to raise the question of the relation of theory to, practice, of 'science to socialism, in a way which does not assume the subservience of the struggle of millions of people to a handful of leaders "armed with Marxist science."

Discussing the utopian socialists, Marx observed that

"So long as the proletariat is not yet sufficiently developed to constitute itself as a class, and consequently so long as the struggle itself of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie has not yet assumed a political character, and the productive forces are not yet sufficiently developed in the bosom of the bourgeoisie itself to enable us to catch a glimpse of the material conditions necessary for the emancipation of the proletariat and for the formation of a society, these theoreticians are merely utopians who, to meet the wants of the oppressed classes, improvise systems and go in search of a regenerating science. But in the measure that history moves forward, and with it the struggle of the proletariat assumes clearer outlines, they no longer need to seek science in their minds; they have only to take note of what is happening before their eyes and to become its mouthpiece. (17)

Although the current (1979) spirit of the working class is not a revolutionary one, the problems we have today in understanding the nature of revolutionary action do not stem primarily from an insufficiency of capitalist development or a lack of historical experience of class struggle. In fact, this history offers us more than a supplement to the observation of what is happening before our eyes, as it allows for the detachment from it of concepts and models to aid in the interpretation of present-day events. Such concepts and models cannot provide us with strategy and tactics for the situations we face and will face, but they are essential as an education that helps prepare us for the creativity that revolutionary activity requires.

An understand of the changing conditions of the workers' movement requires an understanding of its context, the capitalist system. This system has continued to develop and change since Capital was written, and in ways which do not receive much attention in Marx's writing, in particular. with the increasing participation of the state in economic activity. The new developments require theoretical discussion. How have Keynisian techniques measured up against the limits Marx discovered in the capitalism of his time? Does the carrying of such techniques to their logical conclusion, in the total state domination of the economy in Russia, China, etc., represent a new form of exploitative society? Above all we have to understand the nature of capitalism to define the system we wish to create in its place. For all of these questions, Marx's work remains an essential starting point. By providing us with a developmental model of "pure" capitalism it allows us to judge the significance of the phenomena like monopolization and state-interference in the economy, to see in what sense the party-state-run systems are alternatives to private-property capitalism , and to pose basic questions about the construction of a system without capital or State.

But Capital is not, as it has been taken to be, only a "theory of capitalist development." It s a "critique of political economy" - that Is, an exploration of the bases of, and alternative to the modes of thought characteristic of life in a society ruled by business. As such it not only "takes note" of our experiences in this system, but, by demonstrating a new way of interpreting them, provides a necessary weapon for the struggle against the system. By showing the roots of capitalist theory in capitalist practice, Marx's theoretical work is a practical tool from which we can learn to organize our own activity in new ways.

It is a remarkable confirmation of Marx's ideas about the relation between social reality and the theories constructed to comprehend it, that the first fifty years of the Marxist movement saw a nearly total failure not only to extend but even to understand Marx's economic writings. Although constant lipservice was paid to Capital as the scientific socialist "Bible of the working class," (!) it is fair to say that the publication of Henryk Grossmann's The Capitalist System's Law of Accumulation and Collapse in 1929 marked the first serious and knowledgeable attempt to come to grips with Marx's actual work. Since then there have been only a few books of importance, either as exegesis or as extension of Marx's theory. Marx theorized with the assumption of a developed worldwide capitalist system, divided into two classes with the vast majority living as wage-earners. Even an approximation to such a state of affairs-in Europe, North America, and Japan-has only recently come into existence. Until the Great Depression of 1979, every crisis heralded a new prosperity in the course of which the long-term trend of growth would continue. It is only today when capitalism seems unable (at least in the absence of world war) to continue its expansion-externally by a rapid development of the Third World, internally by maintenance, of a steady growth rate-that the questions Marx raised about the long-term trends have become questions of the hour.

If Marx is now more relevant than ever, the Marxist tradition in which his relics have been enshrined has little to offer us as a guide to understanding, and much to confuse us with. It is necessary, therefore, to go back to Capital itself as a starting point for further progress in analysis. Even apart from the ideological accretions of the last hundred years, however, Marx's works pose certain difficulties for the reader. It must be said that in this matter professional intellectuals have shown no advantage over working-class readers. This is no doubt in part due to the disadvantage of having professional interests incompatible with taking Marx too seriously. But even assuming a desire to understand the world as it is, Marx had to forewarn his readers that "there is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits." (18)

In addition to the difficulty inherent in coming to grips with any abstract theory, particularly one, like Marx's, which asks us to think about a familiar subject matter in a most unfamiliar way, Capital presents the reader with a number of problems peculiar to what its author called the "method of presentation" of his ideas. First of all, the structure of the argument is such that it is only when all three volumes are read that the whole significance of the first can be seen. Marx ought to have begun with a clear explanation of what he was trying to do and the method he would employ, but he did not. Secondly, Marx's book looks so much like a work of economic analysis that it has been difficult to remember or to understand the significance of its original title: critique of political economy. What Marx meant by "critique," and what accordingly the relation of his work to economic theory is, calls for some exposition. In addition, though "it is generally agreed that Marx was a master of literary German," (19) his style cannot be called a "popular" or simple one. As he wrote Kugelmann in reference to this problem,

"It is due in part to the abstract nature of the subject-matter, to the limited space prescribed to me, and to the goal of the work.. . . Scientific attempts at the revolutionizing of a science can never be truly popular. But, once the scientific foundation is laid, popularization is easy. If the times become somewhat stormier, it will be possible again to choose colors and inks which will cover a popular presentation of these subjects.(20)

To date, such a presentation has not been written. The forthcoming series of articles, to which this is an introduction, is not intended to answer this need, -but rather to supply enough of the methodological background to enable the reader to deal with Marx's own writing. We will begin with an exploration of Marx's political and intellectual objectives in Capital and then see how the form of the argument derives from these. We will end with a discussion of the extent to which Marx achieved his aim-that is, to which his theory can help us organize the overthrow of the current system of social life and the construction of a new one.

Paul Mattick, Jr.


1. Marx to Arnold Ruge, September. 1843 Karl Marx on Revolution ed. Saul K. Padover (NY: Mc Graw-Hill; 1971), pp. 517-18; original in Marx Engels Werke (henceforth MEW ) (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1959) 1:345

2. Marx and Engels, The German ideology (NY; International Publishers, 1939), p. 79.

3. Marx, Notes on Bakunin in MEW 18: 5970642; cited and trans. Richard N. Hunt, the POloiyticla Ideas of Marx and Engels (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1974), p.326.

4. Marx and Engels, German Ideology. pp. 13-14.

5. Marx, Class Struggle in France 1848-1850 (International Publishers, 1964) pp. 12, 14. 15.

6. Engels to J. Wedemeyer, 12 April 1853, Marx -Engles Selected Correspondence (henceforth MESC) (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, n.d.) p. 94

7. See Hunt, op cit pp. 212-283 and passim. In 1874, Engels criticized the Blanquist idea of revolution in these terms: "From Blanqui's conception that every revolution is a surprize attack by a small revolutionary minority, there follows of itself the necessity for a dictatorship after the success of the venture. This would be, for sure, a dictatorship not of the entire revolutionary class, the proletariat, but of a small number, who have made the surprise attack and who are themselves previously organized under the dictatorship of one or several individuals" (Engels, "Programm der Blanquitsten Kommunefluchtilinge", in MEW 18:529, cited and translated Hunt, op. cit. p. 311)

8. Marx to F. Freilgrath, 29 February 1860 in MEW 30: 495.

9. Marx to J.b Schweitzer, 13 October 1868 MESC pp. 257-58

10. Marx, "General Rules of the International Workingmen's Association: in Karl Marx on the First International ed. S. Padover (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1973) p. 13 and "Instructions for delegates of the provisional general council (1866) ibid. p. 27

11. Marx to J.B Schweitzer op. cit. p. 259

12. T.Bottomore and M. Rubel eds. Karl Marx;: Selected Writings in Sociology and Social Philosophy (Penguin 1963) pp. 210-11.

13. Marx , Capital (Penguin, 1976) 1: 104

14. Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach,: in Bottom0ore and Rubel,op cit pp. 82-83.

15. Karl Kautsky, cited by Lenin, "What is To Be Done?" in his Selected Works (NY: International publishers, 1967), 1: 129-130 cf. ibid pp. 82-83.

15. K. Kautsky, cited by Lenin, "What is to be Done?" in his Selected Works, 1: 129-130.

16. Rosa Luxemburg, "Organizational Questions of Social Democracy" in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, ed. Mary Alice Waters (Pathfinder Press, 1970) pp. 117-18 and 130.

17. Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy (Moscow, Foreign Language Publishing House, n.d.) p. 125

18. Marx, Capital 1: 104

19. Ben Fowkes Translator's Preface to Capital 1: 88

20. Marx to L. Kugelman, 28 December 1862 in briefe uber "Das Kapital" (Berlin, Deitz Verlag, 1954) p. 114

From Root and Branch #8, taken from Collective Action Notes



12 years ago

In reply to by

Submitted by jura on May 29, 2012

To date, such a presentation has not been written. The forthcoming series of articles, to which this is an introduction, is not intended to answer this need, -but rather to supply enough of the methodological background to enable the reader to deal with Marx's own writing.

Does anyone know if the "forthcoming series" was actually published in later issues of Root & Branch? If so, are these articles online? If not, could someone try to locate them? If so, could someone... Thanks! :D